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Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Case Challenging NSA Surveillance

Without comment, the Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's vast collection of telephone and electronic data.

SCOTUSblog reports that this is the first case to reach the U.S. high court since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking documents that shed light on some of the U.S. government's most secret operations.

SCOTUSblog explains:

"The [Electronic Privacy Information Center] plea was filed directly in the Court, without prior lower court action. The group requested that the Justices direct a judge of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to vacate an order he issued in April requiring a branch of the telephone giant Verizon to turn over to the government a vast array of data, including sweeps of U.S. telephone calls and Internet exchanges. The Court very rarely grants such a 'writ of mandamus or prohibition.'

"EPIC had contended that no other court was open to hear a challenge to orders of the FISA Court, so the Supreme Court should consider its case now. The Justice Department had answered that EPIC could attempt to pursue its case in lower courts first, although the government has attempted to thwart review of previous challenges."

Of course, this doesn't mean challenges to NSA surveillance end there. For example, on Friday, a federal court in Manhattan will hear an ACLU challenge to a government program that collects phone metadata in bulk.

Also, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reported in October, the Obama administration is in the process of setting up a test case by revealing to a defendant that "some evidence against them may have come from a secret electronic surveillance program."

Such a revelation would open the door for the defendant to initiate a legal challenge, which potentially could wind its way to the Supreme Court and test the constitutionality of the bulk collection of electronic records.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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